What does MSM Mean to You?

I have a simple question for you, dear reader? What does MSM mean to you?

When you hear the phrase MSM, do you think of Methylsulfonylmethane?  Perhaps, if you are into dietary supplement or have osteoarthritis.  More specifically, Methylsulfonylmethane is an organosulfur compound with the formula (CH3)2SO2 that is naturally in foods such as cow’s milk, meat, seafood, fruits and vegetables.  Now the word sulfur scares me a bit since I have an allergy to sulfa but I don’t think it is the same thing. MSM can come in caplet form and could be used for snoring and has been explored for cancer prevention, scleroderma, allergies and constipation.  Sounds somewhat handy. But until today, honestly,  I had never heard of that particular MSM.  Next….

If you are into music, you may think of the Manhattan School of Music when you hear MSM.   That particular MSM, purports to prepare highly talented students for careers as passionate performers and composers, and as imaginative, effective leaders in the arts.   I love that the Manhattan School of Music has a tab on its website that is labeled “the MSM experience. ”  For me, in my field, that is kind of funny. So, anyway, the Manhattan school of music is not what I automatically think of when I hear MSM.  Next…

There is a great historical, precedence setting MSM in the United States-that of the Morehouse School of Medicine which was established in 1975 as the first medical school established at a Historically Black College and University.   Although a great institution that is not the first thing I think of when I hear the phrase MSM. Next…

On Sunday morning on Meet the Press, or on the weekdays on Morning Joe, I often hear the phrase MSM.  In that context MSM are those media disseminated via the largest distribution channels, which therefore represent what the majority of media consumers are likely to encounter.  Thus, MSM stands for Main Stream Media. The term also denotes those media generally reflective of the prevailing currents of thought, influence, or activity.  I have to admit I rather love Sarah Palin’s “wink & pout” take on MSM by calling them instead “lamestream” media.  In a way, she is truly onto something in that what is being referred to as mainstream media is really traditional media such as evening news  television, newspapers (i.e. New York Times) and radio (to some extent).  But are they really mainstream? They seem to be going the way of the dodo.  Should Twitter perhaps be referred to as mainstream media?  Anyway, while I love taking about mainstream media, when I use the phrase MSM in my everyday work that is not what I am referring to. Next…

In the movie Horrible Bosses, three characters that are horribly treated by their bosses consider hiring a hitman. One decides to find the required hitman in the classified section titled men seeking men.  He figured they were three men seeking a hitman. They were extremely shocked when the hitman turned out to be a guy who had a fetish for urinating on other men.  That was truly a funny scene at 2am in the morning. Now, we are getting closer to what I generally think of when I hear the phrase MSM.

When I first started at my current workplace in 2004, I was introduced to the term MSM.  It was a common phrase that was invoked in almost every grant proposal I came across, program design protocol and occasional flyer.  In the non-profit HIV field, MSM refers to men-who-have-sex-with-men.  This phrase was actually coined in 1994 by a research group led by Glick.  The year 1994 was actually quite momentous: I graduated from college, I got my first job at the Department of Justice, AIDS becomes the leading cause of death for all Americans ages 25-44, CDC published recommendations on the use of AZT to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was established, the Northridge earthquake (magnitude 6.7) struck  Los Angeles, Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman are murdered outside the Simpson home by some crazed stranger to never be found,  George W. Bush was elected governor of the state of Texas, and Nancy Kerrigan was kneecapped and wailed for all the world to see and for Saturday Night live to spoof.  Wow, 1994 was a mega-busy year.  Maybe that explains why it took me ten years to really start using the phrase men-who-have-sex-with-men.

Why use the phrase men-who-have-sex-with-men?   Well, it refers to males who engage in sexual activity with members of the same sex, regardless of how they identify themselves. The key here is self-identification.   There are many men who choose not to (or cannot for other reasons) accept sexual identities of gay, homosexual or bisexual. The term was created in the 1990s by epidemiologists in order to study the spread of disease among men who have sex with men, regardless of identity.

In exploring what the term MSM means to different groups of people, you can see that the psychology of creating an in-group can occur through jargon, jargon, and more jargon.  As you well, know, the phrase Jargon is especially defined in relationship to a specific activity, profession, group, or event. The philosopher Condillac observed in 1782 that “Every science requires a special language because every science has its own ideas.”   But now every turn you take, there are jargon-filled conversations.  Holiday parties, weddings and happy hours consist of conversations that serve to exclude others and ensure that only your group can meaningfully partake. The use of the phrase MSM has such widely different meanings that you signal your group affiliation by its correspondingly appropriate use.  Jargon, consequently, can create barriers to communication with those not familiar with the language of the field.  It would be kind of neat to hold an MSM conference whereby aspiring musicians, medical students, media types, Greenwich Village and Castro residents, and those with osteoarthritis are invited to attend.   Sit me at the bar, give me a rum cocktail and let the conversations begin.

Just in case you were wondering about other possible MSM uses, consider the following: Mechanically separated meat, Miami Sound Machine and Master-Slave Manipulator.   Personally, I am fascinated by the mechanically separated meat which  is basically a paste-like meat product produced by forcing beef, pork, turkey or chicken, under high pressure through a sieve or similar device to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue.  It does remind me of the pink slime controversy this past summer. What ever happened with that by the way?  I wonder what the annual mechanically separated meat (MSM) conference looks like?   Let’s invite them to the MSM party!

I welcome your thoughts

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